Bandit’s BBQ smokes up business
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Ralph and Trish Zarker had a bumpy road in 2017, with their business changing over from Aaron’s Barbecue to Bandit’s BBQ & Catering.
Back in 2013, the couple became owners of longtime Copperas Cove business Aaron’s Smoke House on Avenue D, but in March 2017, had to close up shop.
Ralph, retired military, already had his sights set on reopening the business after its closure last spring.
“When we knew they weren’t going to help us out with the building, we had talked to the Home Base guys,” Zarker said. When the Home Base headquarters representatives came to Copperas Cove prior to their store’s opening, they paid the Zarkers a visit at Aaron’s, liked what they saw, and the rest was history.
“They said, ‘If you ever get a trailer, would you mind opening here?’, and we said, ‘No problem,’” Zarker added. “We knew we had the place, we just had to get the trailer and get it built.”
Ralph said there were obstacles to getting the custom trailer outfitted, with the trailer outfitters being busier in the summer, followed by hurricanes in late August and early September.
“They get a lot of their parts from overseas, so a lot of that stuff got tied up,” Zarker said. “Also, we weren’t really set up for catering until the trailer was done.”
Now reopened this past fall as Bandit’s BBQ, the business is losing no time to regain its footing in the parking lot of Home Base every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Zarker said he arrives with the trailer about 4 a.m. and that all the meats, except the brisket, are prepared on with his Schmokers custom pit.
The menu remains the same with a variety of smoked meats to include brisket, chicken and pork, with the same sides minus the green beans and collard greens that were previously served.
Carryovers on the sides include the Zarkers’ smoked mac and cheese, pinto beans, potato salad, and coleslaw. Trish said everything is made from scratch, except for the noodles.
One customer favorite also being served is Trish’s plate, which consists of smoked mac and cheese, smothered with chopped brisket, and Trish came up with the idea. She said she found the cheese in the mac and cheese a “little too smoky,” but found that the barbecue sauce in the chopped brisket made the flavor perfect for her.
Ralph said former customers have found them, even with the business’ new name.
“They recognize Trish first,” he said. “Very few recognize me, cause I’m always stuck in the window.” They keep their customers up-to-date on their Facebook page with regular updates. For example, they were open Thanksgiving weekend, but served a limited menu of sandwiches.
Ralph developed his love of barbecue and smoking meat after high school, and throughout his military travels, continued it. “From England to Georgia to New Jersey, I’ve done barbecue.”
The business is named after the couple’s dog, Bandit, who, when he was a puppy, enjoyed eating the barbecue fed to him by members of Ralph’s unit.
“I walked out and I saw Bandit’s belly full and they were throwing him barbecue,” Trish said. “It was Bandit approved.”
The couple also caters and can be reached at 254-248-7690. Bandit’s BBQ websites are facebook.com/banditsbarbecue and www.banditsbarbecue.com.